All posts by Deardra Shuler

Deardra Shuler has experience in theatre, music, concert promotion, television and publishing. She was affiliated with the Negro Ensemble Company and is a former manager of the children’s theatre,”TADA.” She has produced and promoted concerts in Madison Square Garden, Carnegie Hall, and Radio City Music Hall. Ms. Shuler is the former Editor and Managing Editor of three New York City minority newspapers. Presently, she is the Entertainment Editor of The Black Star News. As a freelance writer she writes for several New York City newspapers; including the Examiner, Amsterdam News and Eurweb. Deardra has columns in Sweden and in California. She is the former PR chairman for the FESPACO film festival in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, Africa, and is presently program manager for BlakeRadio.com where she also hosts her own show "Topically Yours."
Vanessa Williams

People of Note: Vanessa Williams Talks About Her Role in ‘After Midnight’

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Vanessa Williams

*Vanessa Williams took time out of her busy schedule to talk to this writer about her role in “After Midnight” which she presently appears in until May 11th with Dule Hill as her leading man.  After Midnight is at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, located at 256 West 47th Street (Between 8th Avenue and Broadway) in Manhattan.  She replaces Toni Baxton who was featured until recently with Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds.

 With “After Midnight,” I feel I have been lucky to have yet another challenge — when one door closes another opens” remarked the talented performer.  “I have been able to jump from genre to genre which I suppose comes down to my having a musical theatre background.  I majored in theater in college so I have had acting, music and dance training as well as theater.  It’s a great discipline because I get a chance to flex and use different muscles depending on where the job is and I get a chance to work with a phenomenal cast of talented performers,” stated Vanessa.

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As part of the cast of “After Midnight,” Ms. Williams does 8 shows a week.  Normally a performer is able to rehearse at least 3 weeks before working in the show, but in her case, Vanessa only had one week of rehearsal and then went straight into the show. “Yes, it was a short rehearsal period; however, I get a chance to sing some amazing standards in the show, songs like “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” “Stormy Weather” and Sunny Side of the Street, et al.”  I’m able to both sing and dance in the show and the music is pure joy.  The energy is electric and the talent is extraordinary so it’s been fun every night,” said Williams.  “This is all music from the 1930s and 40s.  Duke Ellington did all the arrangements. In fact, Wynton Marsalis first did the show at CityCenter about two years ago.  So the musical has traveled its road having started off as a concept then becoming a Broadway show, “explained the singer/actress/Broadway star.

“After Midnight” is a 90 minute show without intermission.  Generally the orchestra is in a pit but in this production the Jazz at Lincoln Center All Stars band is a featured part of the show and is allowed to demonstrate their own outstanding musical talents during the show.

“From the very beginning of the downbeat, you are on a ride.  The audience can’t stop tapping their feet. But it’s the Harlem Renaissance era right up on stage.  It’s our history, our songbook.  These are melodies you can’t get out of your head and is an important part of our legacy” continued Vanessa.

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The After Midnight producers also feature a slot called the Special Guest Star.  Although all the special guests do the same four numbers naturally they do it in their individual keys.  “In my case,” said Vanessa, “I dance.  So, I get a chance to do new choreography that has never been done by anyone else.  I am sure whoever comes after me will bring their own particular talents and specialties to the role as well.  It’s a joy whenever I am doing Broadway because it is something I love.  Dule Hill is back in the show after some time away but he is back headlining with me, I know people may have seen his television show and may be unaware that Dule started off as a dancer.   He has a background in tapping.  Maybe some of you remember him in the “Tap Dance Kid,” explained Ms. Williams.

I chatted with the entertainer about her roles in Ugly Betty and then later in Desperate Housewives. Vanessa discussed how actors must get used to immersing themselves into different roles.

“I was Wilhelmina Slater in Ugly Betty and then was dropped into Wisteria Lane for my role in Desperate Housewives.  Actors find themselves a different character in a different field and ambiance. Of course there are different writers and whole lot of different people to work with.  After 4 years of Ugly Betty I bonded with the ensemble cast, so naturally I miss the people in that show.  You become a family.  As an actor you take what you are given and emerge yourself into the moment. I stay in touch with my Ugly Betty cast members and even after I leave “After Midnight,” I will stay in touch with some of the wonderful people I have met in the show.”

When Vanessa ends her engagement in “After Midnight”on May 11th she is planning a 2-week tour in Japan.  Then back to the US where she will resume her role in “Trip to Bountiful” with Cicely Tyson and Blair Underwood in Los Angeles who takes over the role that Cuba Gooding filled in NY.  Bountiful will run in LA until November 2nd.

Listen to my show with Vanessa Williams on “Topically Yours” via http://www.blogtalkradio.com/blakeradio/2014/04/10/topically-yours–vanessa-l-williams on the BlakeRadio Network, Rainbow Soul. – Deardra Shuler

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People of Note: B.B. King and Lucille to Play the Bronx

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*One of the most famous guitarists in the world of Blues, B.B. King, will be appearing at Lehman Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday, April 19th at 8:00 p.m.  Known around the world, at age 88, King is an unstoppable musical icon who is still going strong and touring to this day.

Born on September 16, 1925, in Itta Bene, Mississippi, Riley B. King (a.k.a. B.B. King) is also a songwriter, singer and blues musician, whose blues hits and classics include “3 O’clock Blues,” “Woke Up this Morning,” “Live at the Regal,” and “Bobby “Blue” Bland Together for the First Time” and Payin’ the Cost to be the Boss.” In the R&B genre, “You Don’t Know Me” rose to #1. “Please Love Me,” “You Upset Me Baby,” “Sweet Sixteen, Part 1” and “Don’t Answer the Door, Part 1,” hit at #2. His crossover hit “The Thrill is Gone,” won King two Grammy Awards and the Hall of Fame Award. These are among the numerous awards he has accumulated during his lengthy career.

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Mr. King has collected a number of guitars over the years.  “Yes, I have an extensive guitar collection, but my guitar of choice is a Gibson custom Lucille,” remarked King who named his guitar Lucille after an incident in Twist, Arkansas, when 2 men while engaging in a brawl knocked over a kerosene stove, setting fire to the hall where B.B. (Blues Boy) was playing.  Rushing outside to escape the flames, King remembered he left his guitar inside.  He rushed back to retrieve it in the knick of time, almost costing him his life.  Later, King learned the fight was over a woman named Lucille, prompting King to trademark his Gibson guitars ever since, calling them Lucille.

Lucille has been good to B.B. who developed a unique and very identifiable style of playing the guitar. Influenced by Blind Lemon Jefferson and T-Bone Walker, King developed a precise and sophisticated style of vocal-like fluid string bends and a shimmering left hand vibrato that many electric blues and rock guitarists have emulated.  “I listen to all kinds of music and they all have something to offer,” said Mr. King in terms of the development of his music and musical style over the years. His humane bent includes supporting a non-profit organization that provides free musical instruments and instructions to underprivileged public school children.  The program is called Little Kids Rock wherein Mr. King sits on the Honorary Board of Directors.

Married twice, B.B. King is reported to have several children and grandchildren.  When asked by this writer how Mr. King would like to be remembered, the King of Blues stated humbly, “I would like to be remembered as a person who loved people & loved sharing my music with the world.”

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King has lent his name to several clubs throughout the years.  His clubs include: B.B’s Blues Club on International Drive in Orlando, Fl; his Blues Club on Beale Street in Memphis, TN and another in Nashville, TN; B.B. Blues Club in West Palm Beach, FL, in Foxswoods Casino in CT, a Blues Club at Universal City Walk in Los Angeles and a B.B. King Blues club located in Times Square (42nd Street) in New York City.

Books written about King include his autobiography entitled “Blues All Around Me” written by David Ritz and “The Arrival of B.B. King” by Charles Sawyer.

Lehman Center for the Performing Arts is located at 250 Bedford Park Boulevard West in the Bronx.  Tickets for the B.B. King concert can be purchased at the Box Office by calling 718-960-8833 or going on line at www.LehmanCenter.org. The Center is accessible via the #4 and D trains or if driving, via the Major Deegan Expressway and Saw Mill River Parkway. Parking is $5. Tickets are selling fast, so get your tickets early.

Deardra Shuler is a well published journalist who has profiled celebrities and  written about people of note for many years. In addition to her column at EURweb.com, she is the host of her radio show “Topically Yours” on BlakeRadio.com and has shows featured on NPR via Initiative Radio. Ms. Shuler is featured in several papers. Her international column in Sweden, “Music Pastures” is available at http://soulinterviews.com. Interested parties can acquire info regarding Deardra through Writspirit.com, Tagged.com, Facebook and Google. Contact her via: Writspirit@aol.com.

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People of Note: ‘After Midnight’ is an Energetic Tour de force

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*It’s “After Midnight” and the joint is jumping with some of the best African American dancers and singers on the Broadway stage. Formerly the headliners were Fantasia Barrino and Dule Hill.  Presently it is Toni Braxton and Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds heading the line-up.  Adriane Lenox also shares top billing.  “After Midnight,” is nothing short of spectacular.  It dazzles and bedazzles. It thrills and sends chills.  And, if you are fans of Babyface and Toni Braxton, you will want to catch the show at The Brooks Atkinson Theatre, located at 256 West 47th Street (between Broadway and 8th Avenues) in Manhattan.

Acting as narrator throughout the show, Babyface kicks off this extravaganza which takes the audience back to the Harlem Renaissance era of the 1920s and 30s, replete with the hairstyles and clothing of the era, as well as jazz music performed by The Jazz at Lincoln Center All Stars handpicked by producer and artistic director, Wynton Marsalis, and led by conductor Daryl Waters.

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Duke Ellington’s “Daybreak Express,” played by the Jazz at Lincoln Center All Stars kicks off the first song of the show, followed by “Happy as the Day is Long,” and “Between the Devil and the DeepBlueSea.”  Kenny Edmonds and the company enjoy themselves singing “The World on a String,” while Adriane Lenox adds comic relief via the songs “Women Be Wise” and “Go Back Where You Stayed Last Night.”  Toni Braxton looks resplendent in her gowns during her performance of “Ill Wind” and “Stormy Weather” with Baby Face and “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love.”  I would add however, that since Braxton does not have a booming voice, her mike be turned up so those in the back can hear her lovely voice without straining.  Ms. Braxton later joins Everett Bradley (who had fun with “Digga Digga Do”), Monroe Kent, Cedric Neal and T. Oliver Reid in scatting Cab Calloway’s “Zaz Zuh Zaz.”  I also enjoyed Bradley who led the spirited vocals in the comedic number “Peckin.”  One of the favored precision dance routines was by five male dancers dressed in top hats and tails.

Kudos must go to Director/Choreographer Warren Carlyle for his creative and inventive dance numbers and to costume designer Isabel Toledo for the stunning costumes that add glitter, style and class to the production.

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 Julius “Glide” Chisolm and Virgil “Lil’ “O’ Gadsen glided and contorted their way through some outstanding dance numbers via “Hottentot Tot” while Jared Grimes master tapped his way through “Tap Mathematician” and Duke Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean A Thing.” His feet tapped so fast in that number, I was out of breath just watching this superb tap dancer.  Karine Plantadit stands out as a dancer in number after number.  Bryonha Marie Parham, Rosena Hill Jackson and Carmen Ruby Floyd’s rendition of “The Gal from Jo’s” was electrifying. Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards’ performance of Get Yourself a New Broom,” was a delight.

I could go on and on, but all I can say is the stellar cast in After Midnight has more talent sharing a single stage then generally seen at one time on Broadway’s Great White Way.

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Deardra Shuler is a well published journalist who has profiled celebrities and written about people of note for many years. In addition to her column at EURweb.com, she is the host of her radio show “Topically Yours” on BlakeRadio.com and has shows featured on NPR via Initiative Radio. Ms. Shuler is featured in several papers. Her international column in Sweden, “Music Pastures” is available at http://soulinterviews.com. Interested parties can acquire info regarding Deardra through Writspirit.com, Tagged.com, Facebook and Google. Contact her via: Writspirit@aol.com.

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People of Note: ‘Sassy Mamas’ And the Men that Love Them

When Older Women Love Younger Men

*The Hadley Players presently featuring “Sassy Mamas,” have made some changes.  They have changed their location from the HarlemSchool of the Arts, to the Poet’s Den Theatre, located at 309 East 108th Street in Manhattan and have a new Artistic Director, Roger Parris.  Ward Nixon who has been the Artistic Director for 3 years recently resigned.  Unfortunately, Ward was recently admitted to the hospital to have a tumor removed.  So this writer wishes him well and better health in future.

A comedy directed by Pat Floyd, “Sassy Mamas” is the story of three middle aged women who find one another undergoing a transition in life.  Having lost their men to death and divorce, they find their dating options slim. They now face the prospect of dating younger men; a prospect that one of the feisty women finds quite appealing while the other two are somewhat reluctant to take the plunge into Cougarville.

Via her play, Celeste Bedford Walker gives her characters professional and responsible positions.  Wilhemina Sorenson portrayed by Cooki Winborn, is a national security advisor who works for the White House and lives at the Watergate Apartments in Washington, D.C.  Wilhemina is embarrassed by the idea of dating a younger man so when journalist Wes Washington is sent to do a story on her she becomes concerned for her reputation when he falls for her.  As a public figure, Wilhemina is nervous about being seen in the company of a younger man so thwarts his advances, despite the fact he tells her age doesn’t matter.  Lonely and attracted to Wes (DeSean Stokes), Wilhemina is in denial and just can’t seem to get over the hurdle of the difference in their ages.

Her friend Jo Billie Massey (Richarda Abrams) is a hospital administrator in charge of running a busy hospital. Jo Billie is ready for a younger man and makes no bones about it.  She has her life planned out to the tee and even wants the young man she has scoped out as her lover to sign a contract wherein he must put up and shut up, in exchange for a massive amount of money. Jo Billie runs the show telling LaDonte, portrayed by Donald Dash that he must quit his job, move in with her and do whatever she tells him to do and only speak when spoken to.  She knows he has a child, but as far as Jo Billie is concerned LaDonte has to deal with his life outside of their arrangement on his own time.  She insists his personal life must never impact her or interfere with their arrangement.  If it does, he breaks the contract and must leave immediately.  Conflicted, LaDonte, eventually swayed by the money, agrees to sign.

Gentle Mary Wooton (M. Drue Williams) was married to an Ambassador, who after years of marriage requested a divorce, thus leaving Mary devastated and depressed long after the divorce was final.  Never having been alone and with grown daughters, Mary is afraid.  She decides to remarry an older man who at least is among her circle of friends.  That is, until Colby, her young gardener, played by Nicholas Miles Newton, complicates things.

Although there is much hi-jinks and comedic aspects to “Sassy Mamas,” it depicts situations that many women face in the apex of their life when they have raised families and suddenly find themselves alone. They do not want to become nurse mates to older single men who are now ailing and slowing down and simply want someone to take care of them. A problem for women who have cared for their men and families most of their lives and now face freedom and the chance to do the things they couldn’t do under the rigors of family life.  Wilhelmina, Jo Billie and Mary find themselves tied to the conditioning of their former life while on the brink of a new life.  So the production becomes the story of new beginnings and the courage to seize the day.  You will have to see the play to learn the final outcome.

Costume design is by Katherine Roberson; set design by Bill Wood, Lighting and sound by Derrick Minter and Melanie Beal; props by Kimberlee Monroe and stage management by Robert Gonzalez.

Go see “Sassy Mamas” but better hurry though! The show runs Tuesday through Saturday at 7:30 pm and Sunday at 2:30 pm but is slated to close on Sunday, March 23rd.

Deardra Shuler is a well published journalist who has profiled celebrities and written about people of note for many years. In addition to her column at EURweb.com, she is the host of her radio show “Topically Yours” on BlakeRadio.com and has shows featured on NPR via Initiative Radio. Ms. Shuler is featured in several papers. Her international column in Sweden, “Music Pastures” is available at http://soulinterviews.com. Interested parties can acquire info regarding Deardra through Writspirit.com, Tagged.com, Facebook and Google. Contact her via: Writspirit@aol.com

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People of Note: Latin Freestyle Dance Music on Lehman Center Stage

Stevie B and Lisa Lisa, et al are part of Forever Freestyle 8

Stevie B and Lisa Lisa, et al are part of Forever Freestyle 8

 *Freestyle music is enjoying its 8th year at Lehman Center for the Performing Arts in the Bronx.  Produced by Sal Abbatiello of Fever Records, “Forever Freestyle 8,” featuring Stevie B, Lisa Lisa., TKA’K7, Safire, Johnny O, Cynthia, Lydia Lee Love, Nayobe, Sammy Zone and Fonda Rae will bring Latin dance music to the stage on Saturday, March 1, at 8:00 p.m.

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People of Note: Guitar Magic in the Bronx

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*Those who have a passion for guitars will be in heaven on Sunday, March 23 at 3:00pm, when three exceptional guitarists bring their Guitar Passions to Lehman Center for the Performing Arts in the Bronx. 

Sharon Isbin the preeminent guitarist of our time, will share the stage with two of her album collaborators, American Jazz artist Stanley Jordan and Brazilian jazz master Romero Lubambo.

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